Solving your Group Project Dilemmas



Kimberly Selway

Villanova’s curriculum seems filled with group projects designed to test your interpersonal communication skills and add a more fulfilling component to your classes. No matter what major you chose or what college you belong to, these endeavors seem to do more to increase frustration levels than to teach you something about how to relate to your peers in a high-stress, demanding environment.

If you think you’re the only student on campus growing increasingly desperate for the semester to be over as your group project goes nowhere, take a number. Believe it or not, others have been in more problematic situations …

Senior communication major Sharon* has participated in a fair number of group projects due to the requirements of her studies. But an experience last year has changed the way she handles interpersonal conflict altogether.

While working on a semester-long assignment for her Senior Project, a member of Sharon’s group seemed dead-set on sabotaging the group. Fellow senior Meghan* was unresponsive and inappropriate at regularly scheduled group meetings and even went so far as to intentionally change minor details of their final project document, like placing a randomly generated 13-digit phone number at the bottom of each page of a 60-page paper, instead of the 10-digit one that was supposed to be there.

“She just refused to do anything we asked her to do, or she would do things wrong on purpose,” Sharon says. “She would come to meetings with The Wall Street Journal and read it the whole time or do homework for other classes. One time, I swear she fell asleep.”

To prevent a similar situation from happening to you, here are some helpful hints as midterms and your project’s due date edge closer.

Be aware of the time constraints and commitments of your group members.

Although it might seem unlikely at first, the vast majority of students do not set out to ruin your group’s grade. If group members seem to be having a hard time making meetings, chances are it’s because their schedules are tightly packed. If your group holds meetings at a mutually beneficial time, everyone will be better able to contribute effectively.

At times, you might find your own workload heavier during certain weeks, which might impact how you contribute to the project. If this is the case, let the group know early on that you’re having some difficulties, and hopefully they’ll cut you some slack. In other weeks, when other members are having some problems, you’ll really appreciate the heads-up as well. Provide extra help after your other assignments have been turned in, and that help will be reciprocated.

By communicating effectively, Sharon’s group was able to move past certain issues and focus on the task at hand. The problems they encountered had a positive effect on their work ethic.

“I think it kind of brought the rest of us together,” she says. “We commiserated with each other, and we had to band together to do not only our share of the work but [Meghan’s] as well.”

Evenly distribute work among group members and meet regularly.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but even compiling everyone’s work adds a lot of additional work for a single group member. Spread out these responsibilities evenly, and your group’s stress will remain manageable. Also, start meeting right after the project has been assigned and groups have been formed. You’ll feel a lot more prepared when the deadline approaches, and you won’t have the problem of clamoring for your professor’s office hours with other groups that have waited until the last minute.

Address conflicts as soon as they occur in a calm, respectful manner.

The majority of problems encountered in a group setting are preventable and escalate from minor incidents.

One person might feel like he or she had been pulling the group’s weight, and as a result, resentment forms. By uncovering any errors in miscommunication right off the bat, you can avoid these small issues from growing into bigger ones. Keeping a level head will help to put things into perspective and prevent feelings from being hurt in the long run.

Contact unhelpful group members repeatedly, and share the slack that needs to be picked up.

It’s inevitable that at some point in your college career, you’ll be a part of a project with that one person who is completely unhelpful in getting things accomplished. However, it’s important to exhaust every outlet to get them involved. If worse comes to worst, you’ll need to be able to defend yourself when peer review sheets come around. By pursuing every option to get them to work with the group, you’ll look much more prepared if you ever need to get a third party involved.

Additionally, try to distribute the left over workload evenly among the rest of the group. This will help to build a mutual respect and trust among your group. Leaving everything to one person will just add to the stress of the situation and build further resentment.

Let the professor know early about the problems you are encountering, but don’t tattle.

By giving your professor the heads-up when problems arise, everyone will be better prepared when the conflict comes to a head. It’s important to remember that the professor is not your parent in this situation; ultimately, it’s your responsibility to be the adult and get the issues resolved as best as you can.

Sharon’s experience led to a similar solution when dealing with issues in her group project.

“I let [the professor] know pretty early on in the project because he approached me to ask how my group was,” she says. “He told me to keep him posted on the situation, but he didn’t really give me much advice.”

But if it comes down to grade deductions, you need to explain the situation to your professor. If your group has worked hard to make up for the shortcomings of one person, you deserve a grade reflective of your efforts.

“Stick up for yourself, and if it is really bad, let the professor know,” Sharon says. “It isn’t worth it to have a miserable semester just because of one bad group member.”

*Names have been changed.